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11 October 2010 - First Edition

Editorial: Overarmed and underfed
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will of WILPF


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The First Committee of the UN General Assembly is not dedicated to “Armament and International Security,” nor “Military Alliances and International Security,” nor “Nuclear Deterrence and International Security.” Its title in fact specifies that it is mandated to focus ondisarmament and international security—linking in its very name the two concepts together. However, though most delegations to First Committee spent the opening week calling unequivocally for disarmament in order to achieve international security, the world is still overarmed while peace and development are under-funded, as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has stressed on numerous occasions.

“The General Assembly should not take a panglossian view” of the current situation, said Ambassador Soares of Brazil. Many delegations praised the growing momentum for multilateral disarmament, citing among things the adoption of a final document at the2010 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference and the commencement of the Arms Trade Treaty process, but several acknowledged that weapons—conventional and nuclear—are still seen as a source of security by those who possess them. The newStrategic Arms Reduction Treaty between the United States and Russian Federation, argued Ambassador Soares, is “a bilateral instrument based on the idea of equivalence of arsenals and of mutual security. In other words, the treaty’s fundament is the persistent need of nuclear weapons to ensure security. The same reasoning is behind policies of other nuclear weapon States whose unilateral measures for arms limitation do not forsake what they call ‘a credible deterrent’.”

The vast majority of states have rejected the notion that nuclear weapons afford security and continue to advocate for their total elimination. “We see no justification for the acquisition or the indefinite possession of nuclear weapons and we do not subscribe to the view that nuclear weapons—or the quest to develop them—contribute to international peace and security,” explained the New Agenda Coalition. Norway’s deputy minister of foreign affairs likewise argued, “Nuclear weapons are a manifest threat to our common security, and they cannot be seen as a legitimate means of advancing national interests—whether political or military.” The Turkish and Jamaicandelegations also noted that weapons of mass destruction do not provide security but that instead they undermine regional security and stability and breed a climate of fear and mistrust.

Other delegates noted the same is true of conventional weapons, remarking on the ever-increasing expenditure for weapons and military technology. Peru’s Ambassador Gutiérrez argued that conventional arms only serve to limit social development and maintain poverty and inequality, which feeds instability. Several delegations called for the resources spent on weapons and war to be redirected to meeting theMillennium Development Goals and other development needs (see report on Disarmament and Development in this edition).

Some suggested that the most effective way to accomplish this is through a fundamental reframing of the concept of security. “We need to pursue a holistic approach which includes not only strict security policy and military considerations” but that is “based on a broader security concept,” said Ambassador Lauber of Switzerland. He argued that the international community “must take human security, environmental, development-related, and IHL-aspects into account if we want to make a real difference for the security of all people of the world.”

A few delegations made specific recommendations to this end, describing some of the elements that will be required to shift thinking about security. Honduran Ambassador Flores suggested that a strength of a nation does not have to be measured by the size of its military or its bombs, but that it should be measured by the wealth of its human heritage. Challenging the oft-repeated argument of the “deterrence” capacity of weapons, she also argued that deterrence is not necessarily having the greatest capacity to destroy but rather, it is no one having the capacity to destroy. Ambassador Lauber confirmed that his country will continue to “promote the debate on the credibility and usefulness of nuclear deterrence,” and “insist on the inherently inhumane nature of nuclear weapons” as a way to delegitimize these weapons and help prepare the ground for outlawing them.

Another important factor in changing conceptions of security will be to include a gender perspective in debates about security and disarmament. Norway’s deptuty foreign minister highlighted the upcoming tenth anniversary of UN Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security and called for the inclusion of a “gender dimension in all disarmament efforts”. In 2006, the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission found that “armament policies and the use of armed force have often been influenced by misguided ideas about masculinity and strength” and that “an understanding of and emancipation from this traditional perspective might help to remove some of the hurdles on the road to disarmament and nonproliferation.” During the General Assembly general debate in September, theprime minister of Trinidad and Tobago announced her country’s intention to introduce in First Committee a resolution on ‘women, disarmament, arms control and non proliferation’ as a way to link the advancement of peace and security with the advancement of women.

As First Committee engages in its thematic debates over the next two weeks, more ideas for reshaping the concept of security will surely be forthcoming. However, as Tanzania’s Ambassador Sefue has already stated, “The right things have been said; now the right things have to be done.”

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